Businesses across Australia grapple with COVID-19 closures as Omicron cases rise, cutting staff

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In Warrandyte, in the far northeast of Melbourne, the Grand Hotel and its staff have been deeply affected by COVID-19 this summer.

Manager Peter Appleby said the pub’s holiday season got off to a good start, but things quickly got tough.

“Customer confidence before Christmas was fantastic, but with this latest outbreak of cases it crippled us,” he said.

Pub management discovered on Christmas Eve that there had been a person with COVID at the location the day before.

By Boxing Day, the severity of the outbreak was evident.

“My staff started to drop like flies, just tested positive for COVID and on Wednesday we had to make the painful decision to close our doors because we had limited staff,” he said.

Businesses are closing as staff shortages created by the pandemic begin to be felt.(ABC News: Ron Ekkel)

Most missed the Christmas and New Years holidays with their families.

And for many, the return to work took longer than expected.

“They’ve all been very, very sick,” Mr. Appleby said.

“After the seven-day isolation, they still cannot return to work because they are still sick.”

This meant that the pub had to keep its doors closed for eight days.

But this time there was no government support.

“The decision to close was made by us, not by the government, and therefore without any support,” Appleby said.

He knows it’s a story that takes place in pubs, restaurants, and bars across states.

A stunt in the pub with a sign saying
Staff at the Grand Hotel in Warrandyte missed Christmas and New Years with their family after catching the virus from a guest. (Provided)

Mr Appleby believes the hospitality industry needs rapid antigen testing to become more widely available, so businesses can keep their doors open.

“If there was a plentiful supply of rapid tests and they were free for those who want to use them, people would be more vigilant to test for symptoms before going out,” he said.

Like much of the country, Victoria faces a shortage of rapid tests and long delays in accessing PCR tests.

The state government has ordered more than 40 million rapid tests that have yet to be delivered, while consumers face a dearth of tests available in the commercial market.

Nationally, the federal government announced yesterday that it will provide up to 10 free rapid tests to concession cardholders over the next three months.

It will also pay half the costs of free rapid tests provided to close contacts of people with COVID-19.

But earlier this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected calls for rapid tests to be more widely and free of charge.

“We’re now at a point in the pandemic where you can’t just make everything free, because when someone tells you they want to do something for free, someone is always going to pay for it and that will be you.” , did he declare.

Bar owners predict two tough months

Across Melbourne, in the west of the city, Mathew O’Keefe runs the Pride of Footscray Community Bar.

The nightclub has already been an exhibition site a few times this summer and had to close for days because the staff were unable to work.

This week, it announced it would reduce its hours of operation for the rest of January and cancel some events in response to the state’s high number of cases and the lack of available COVID-19 tests.

Mathew O'Keefe wears a gold fedora and black shirt with his arms around a smiling man and woman
Mathew O’Keefe (second from right) fears people are too scared to go out to dinner as the coronavirus continues to spread.(Provided)

“It’s a balance between keeping the business alive and the safety of customers and staff,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

“We’re not alone here, every business is going to have a story of how they do it and how they survive.”

But Mr O’Keefe said the hospitality industry could face an even greater challenge over the next two months – he believes high numbers of COVIDs and a dearth of testing options are likely to deter people to come out completely.

“I don’t think people will come out anyway, just because they don’t want to stand in line for six hours the next day to get tested,” he said.

Mr O’Keefe said the next two months “could be very, very difficult” for his small business and many others, but he hoped things would improve once the number of booster shots in the world improved. ‘State would increase.

In Queensland, tourism operators struggle to stay open

It’s not just in Victoria where businesses are facing staff shortages due to COVID-19.

Hamilton Island in north Queensland has suspended day trips to the island and reservations at more than 150 vacation homes it operates due to understaffing.

In a statement, the resort said its housekeeping department was particularly affected by the virus.

“This is undoubtedly very disappointing news for visitors who had planned [to] staying on Hamilton Island in vacation homes and we offer our sincere apologies to those affected, ”he said.

Hospitality on the Gold Coast is also struggling this summer, after the state borders opened last month and the number of COVID has increased dramatically with the spread of the Omicron variant.

Scott Imlach operates six establishments across town, which include bars and restaurants.

Scott Imlach holds up a pint of beer behind a bar, smiling for the camera
Most of Scott Imlach’s locations across the Gold Coast have been affected by staff shortages. (Provided: Scott Imlach)

His Burleigh restaurant, Mr. Hizolas, was closed for a week after an outbreak.

“We had an entire restaurant where almost everyone (the staff) had it,” he said.

“Eighteen of the 21 got it.”

For many of his employees, he said it took three to four days to be tested.

Wide shot of empty restaurant stands with street art on the walls.
Scot Imlach’s Hideaway restaurant has had to close due to staff catching COVID-19. (Provided: Scott Imlach)

This closure alone cost his business approximately $ 120,000 in revenue.

A two-day shutdown at her Hideaway bar cost her business roughly $ 50,000 in expected revenue – it still only operates five days a week due to a shortage of chefs.

Mr Imlach said he was losing around six to seven employees every day to COVID.

“I’m calling the staff who haven’t worked for me for 10 years to see if they can come and help and keep the doors open,” he said.

It’s a similar story in other restaurants in town.

For many, a summer of constant closings will have impacts for months to come.

Mr Imlach said profits from the Christmas season generally help his businesses during the leaner months of February and March.

But this year, with no lockdowns or border restrictions, it is just fighting to stay open for business.

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